The Kitchen Common-Sense
IN Seaport they were rather shy of new things, and for years after the invention of stoves preferred to shiver before wood-fires the long winter through, to having their chilled and comfortless rooms warmed by imprisoning the fire in iron boxes. Mrs. Atwater, widow of a forgotten magnate of the Essex bar, had the first cookingstove ever seen in Seaport. She lived in one of the grandest and coldest houses in the town ; and though her wood-pile was of the largest, and the “great fires up the chimney roared,” she could never warm her large, handsome, old-fashioned kitchen, and so, from December to April, she and Nabby, her ancient serving - maid, sat crouched before the mighty blaze of maple and birch, with scorched faces and frozen backs. Mrs. Atwater’s daughter, knowing how cold the house was in the winter, sent her mother a cooking-stove, then a comparatively recent invention, hoping therewith to make the old lady comfortable during the cold season, and also to render Nabby’s culinary labors more light. Early one fine mild November day the stove arrived, and was set up in the kitchen. Before Nabby had a chance to kindle a fire in the machine, Mrs. Atwater put on her glasses, took a chair, and sat down in front of it and examined it thoroughly. She opened and shut the doors, lifted the covers, peeped into the oven, puzzled herself with the dampers, looked regretfully towards the closed-up fireplace, and then, in a mild but decisive manner, told Nabby to have the thing taken away immediately ; and taken away it was, and as long as Mrs. Atwater lived no other stove was allowed to be brought into the house.
The story of Mrs. Atwater’s stove was heard with sympathy by neighbors and acquaintances, many of whom looked upon that new-fangled abomination called a cooking-stove with distrust, if not with fear. But when, a few years after Mrs. Atwater’s death, Colonel Blumphy, the popular Whig representative to the Great and General Court from Seaport, invented a cookstove, his partisans, almost to a man, had the “ Saddle-Bags ” (so the Colonel’s stove was called) put up in their kitchens. I dare say you never heard of either Colonel Blumphy or his cooking-stove. They flourished before your time. The Colonel — bland, gentlemanly, and portly, full of joke and jest, and good-natured to a fault — was carried off by a fever at a ripe old age, a few years before the breaking up of the great Whig party, of which he was so long an honorable and honored member ; and the “ SaddleBags,” pushed aside by newer and better stoves, went years ago to the limbo of forgotten things. It was a success in its day, and was praised and prized by half the housewives in Essex County. I have a fading memory of a “ Blumphy’s Patent” in the house of an old woman who smoked a long-stemmed clay-pipe, and of whom I used to buy yeast for mother when a small boy. It was, as I remember it, a very homely stove, and seemed to smoke upon the slightest provocation, though not so badly as a cantankerous old chimney. It was a wood-stove, and must have consumed a prodigious quantity of hemlock-spruce, that being the kind of wood which the patentee said was the best and most economical for the “ Saddle-Bags.” Yet it warmed the room, baked, boiled, and set the teakettle singing in much less time and at much less expense than a fire on the hearth.
I have an hereditary love of woodfires blazing in capacious fireplaces. My great-grandfather, who commanded one of jack Beach’s ships, and made the famous seven years’ voyage, of which you may or may not have heard, was a notable firesider. He declared more than many times, and even enforced his assertion with a mighty oath, that there were three things in particular which he thoroughly hated, — priestcraft, Englishmen, and stoves. The dear, fiery-souled old man ! how he did scold and rage and swear when, upon coming home from sea, he saw the Franklin stove which his wife, during his absence, had set up in his favorite sitting-room ! “ By-, madam, you have been spending my money very foolishly ! I ’ll be d — d if I ’ll sleep in the house to-night unless that — that devilish thing is kicked into the street ! What business had Ben Franklin to invent a d — d stove ? Better have stuck to candle-making. A great man, but d — n me if I don’t wish he’d spent his time better ! This humbug is unworthy of him, unworthy of anybody but a d — d Englishman ! ” At the conclusion of this fine speech, the captain went into the kitchen and sat down before the cheerful hearth-fire, which he loved and all but worshipped. He soon grew calm and mild, and kindly informed his wife, who had followed him to the fireside, that as it was so late in the afternoon, she need not send the d — d stove away before the next morning. If ever an American Fuller writes the history of the worthies of New England, this stout and sturdy sailor will be honorably mentioned therein.
His son, who had his father’s dislike of stoves, if not of priestcraft and the English, was so angry with the Whigs for approving of Colonel Blumphy’s patent, that he left the party and went over to the Democrats, who denounced the “ Saddle-Bags ” as an anti-republican invention. I don’t think, however, that all the Democrats in the United States, like their friends in Seaport, thought it unconstitutional to use the Colonel’s cook-stove. Every autumn, as long as my grandfather lived, his big barn was filled with piles and piles of birch and maple, and for nearly all the year round the fires blazed and crackled within his ample fireplaces and shone upon smiling elders, laughing girls, and gay young bachelors. After his death, the household fires burned less brightly and the company grew smaller and sadder every year, till at last the house, once the home of pleasure and jollity, was only occupied by my mother and myself, and a little old lady who dwelt alone in the sunny front sitting-room, carefully comforting and cosseting her “ sickness-broken body ” and diligently reading her large-print Bible. As a child I took much pleasure in wandering over the silent and melancholy old house, stealing awestruck into the great gaunt rooms, peeping into dark, mysterious closets, and standing between the jambs of vacant fireplaces, watching the clouds go over the top of the chimney. Especially did I like the rough, half-finished upper chambers, with their little rusty glass windows and unpainted doors, upon one of which were faded pencil-drawings of ships and other vessels, — real works of art to me then, but now, I suppose, I should prefer one of Lane’s marine paintings to the best of those black-lead masterpieces. There was in one of these chambers a bureau of pine, curiously painted and oddly shaped, in which I found a little torn copy of the “ Pilgrim’s Progress,” and a wonderful little doubleblack, which would have done admirably for a Liliputian man-of-war, and which a certain shadowy uncle of mine made with a jack-knife when a boy. There was also in the same room a long blue chest (how well I remember it!) which contained, among other things, a forlorn old fiddle that once had made the house blithe with its music, but out of which I could never get any melody. Perhaps the fiddle was not wholly to blame for that. And let me not forget to mention the window in the recess which looked up the river, to the many-steepled town, and “ the deep-voiced, neighboring ocean.” It seems to me I was always at that window during the warm weather watching the vessels. O, how happy I felt when I saw, as I often did on golden summer mornings, a fine new ship with all sail set creeping away to sea, or a fleet of lumbermen or wood-coasters coming, one by one, through the draw of the chain-bridge, and sailing up the broad and beautiful river, right past my window ! Particularly did I love to sit at this window on sunny summer Sunday mornings, listening to the music of the multitudinous bells,and gazing upon the happy flags waving from the shipping as if in grateful acknowledgment of the beauty and holiness of the day. But in winter, when, as in Mr. Burke’s old English palaces, the bleak winds howled through the long entries and clattered the doors of the shivering chambers, I could only pay few and brief visits to this window, and had to pass most of my time in our dark lowstudded kitchen with mother and the cat. Ah me ! how many long and lingering old-fashioned winters (it makes one shiver to think of them !) did not we three pass in that dear and dismal room, with only a wood-fire deep within the mighty fireplace. Though having, as above said, an hereditary love of a fire on the hearth, I was not sorry — but, on the contrary, I was very glad — to hear mother say, one bitter cold day of a bitter cold season, that she would not live through another winter without a stove. Our house-neighbor, the old lady (whom we called Aunt Nancy), seated close to the fire in her stuffed-and-quiltedbacked arm-chair, with a foot-stove at her feet, with great shawls over her shoulders, with a thick, double cap on her head, bore the cold with invincible patience, and just managed not to freeze during the short cold days of those long cold winters ; she advised mother to think twice before she got a stove, as if she had not been thinking of the matter ever since I was a baby, and I was now a big boy who had outgrown jackets and just put on his first coat. And the Dobleys, people of wealth and fashion, who boasted that they consumed twenty cords of wood every winter, counselled mother to have nothing to do with stoves. “ Surely,” said fine Mrs. Dobley, “ one would rather suffer ever so much with the cold, than be warmed with such a beggarly thing as a stove.” But mother was not too genteel to be comfortable, and, moreover, owing to the increasing dearness of wood, could not afford the luxury of freezing before a hearth-fire another winter.
Having decided to buy a stove, it soon became time to determine whether it should be a wood or a coal stove. After much anxious inquiry among the neighbors and much painful deliberation, mother was about to declare her preference for a coal-stove, when she was told by an old gentleman of eminent gravity that coal was little better than rocks, unless the draft was right, and that depended upon the chimney. Would our chimney be friendly to a coal-stove ? The old gentleman, after peeping up the flue, said, very sagely, it might and it might not. What should she do ? She consulted the stove-dealers, who seemed to know almost as much about chimneys as Franklin or Count Rumford. Those who were most interested in wood-stoves thought it would not be best for her to try coal ; and those who dealt principally in coal-stoves had not the least hesitation in advising her to burn coal. Being somewhat perplexed by these kindly given, if not perfectly disinterested opinions, she went to Richport and talked the matter over with Uncle Rolt, who was curiously well informed in practical every-day things. She returned no wiser than she went. Uncle Rolt knew nothing about the construction of her chimney, and had a poor opinion of all coal-stoves except “ Spitfires ” or “ Salamanders.” She had not, however, been at home many days when she was surprised by a visit from Uncle Rolt, who came to Seaport to superintend the casting of a mammoth “ Salamander.” After a slight examination of our chimney, Uncle Rolt declared he would eat all the coal a decent stove would not burn. Mother could doubt or hesitate no longer; it should be a coal-stove.
It was then, however, a little too early in the season to buy it: the dealers had not got their new stoves blacked and polished and ready for sale. But one day late in September, Miss Sally Dole (one of our neighbor’s poor relations) came running across the street with the “ Seaport Herald ” in her hand. “ Here ’s to-day’s ‘ Herald,’ ” she said as she gave mother the paper. “ Ma’am Bagley thought you’d like to read the stove sellers’ advertisements.” Sally had hardly gone when there was a rap at the door and a boy with a “Herald,” with a great black mark round the advertisements of stoves. Just before dinner a schoolmate came in, followed by Achilles (a big black dog) with a “ Herald ” in his mouth for mother ; and just after dinner Rosebud, the block-maker’s daughter, came blushing into the room, saying, as she handed mother a paper, “Grandmother says there’s some advertisements in the ‘ Herald ’ which you would like to see.” The wife of our minister also sent her little maid to us with a “ Herald ” containing those wonderful advertisements. What good neighbors we had ! what kind friends ! That afternoon Mrs. Deacon Ambrose, a notable good-natured gadabout, called upon us, and with no little pride and exultation informed mother that at last the deacon had consented to have a cooking-stove. “ Now please listen a moment,” said Mrs. Ambrose, taking the “ Herald ” from her reticule and reading the familiar advertisements aloud. “ My dear,” she added, putting the paper into the bag, “ let’s you and I go down town to-morrow and pick out our stoves before the best of them are sold. If I don’t get mine right off, I fear Ambrose ’ll change his mind ; and if he does it ’ll be dreadful hard work to coax and scold him round again, he is so obstinate ! ” Mother agreed to her gossip’s proposal, and on the next day they set off together for down town. Down town! — where the ships were, and the tall steeples with the big bells in them, — what magic to me there was in these words once !
They left home with the determination of devoting the whole day to the business in hand, and probably would have passed the forenoon at least among the stoves, had not Madam Bagley, who saw them from her window, rapped for them to come in. In her happy and lovely old age, Madam Bagley was the pride and the boast of her friends, who were more numerous than Parson Primrose’s poor relations. How shrewd and sensible and witty she was! How rich and racy were her reminiscences of the past,her past and your past! She knew more about dead-and-forgotten people than you did of your nextdoor neighbors, and always had an anecdote of your grandfather or a story of your grandmother which you had never heard before.
Upon such topics as the Embargo, and the great fire, and Lafayette’s visit to Seaport, she would discourse for hours, never tiring herself, and, what is more remarkable, never tiring you. To-day she was full of the French claims, and held her impatient callers with her glittering eye, as the Ancient Mariner held the wedding-guest, from eight o’clock in the morning till eleven o'clock in the forenoon, while she prattled upon that interesting historical and political subject. Sally Dole, who followed mother and Mrs. Ambrose to the door to have the last word with them, warned them, as they descended the steps into the street, not to buy a stove unless the iron was good.
When they got down town the twelveo’clock bell was ringing, and as they did not care to buy stoves on an empty stomach, or even to look at them in that unfavorable condition, mother proposed that they should dine at Uncle Bass’s. He lived right in the heart of the town, amidst the hurly-burly of business, and was the very soul of hospitality, and made you feel that you were doing him a kindness by dropping in to dine with him. He was in excellent spirits to-day ; greeted mother and good Mrs. Ambrose with more than customary cordiality, and led them both by the hand, as a mother leads her little children, into the quaint old parlor and presented them to his son, a little, round-faced, elderly man, with wonderfully fine eyes and a rich musical voice, who had just returned from an East India voyage. Undoubtedly mother and her friend were anxious to be gone about their business; yet to please Uncle Bass they returned to the parlor after dinner to have a little more talk with the sailor, who was so entertaining (he was notoriously known to be a great liar) that they soon grew oblivious of stoves, and actually sat till tea-time, listening to the strange stories of this salt-sea rover. On their way home at dusk they met Miss Sally Dole, who hoped that their stoves were of good iron. “ Sister Susan’s first stove,” continued Sally, “ was made of poor iron, and it would neither bake nor keep the room warm, and she was glad when it cracked so badly that her husband had to sell it and buy a new one, ‘ The Family Friend,’ which is good iron and bakes beautifully.” Mrs. Ambrose, not willing to acknowledge how fruitlessly the day had been spent, said they had postponed the purchase of their stoves till to-morrow, so as not to be too hasty in their choice.
In the first store they entered next day they saw “ The Family Friend,” — a large, clumsy, unhandsome stove, which neither of them liked, though the dealer maintained that it was the best stove in the world. Good for wood or coal, of which it consumed wonderfully little, compared with other stoves. It was the best of bakers, and threw out the heat all over the room, except in warm weather, when it passed off through the funnel after heating the oven and boiling the teakettle. “ Though not so ornamental as a New York cook-stove, which is good for nothing but to look at, it will out-bake and out-heat and outlast the best of them ; and yet,” continued the honest merchant, waxing warm, “ many of the women run after those figured-up New York stoves, and turn up their noses at ‘The Family Friend.’ All sensible women,” he added, “ prefer a sensible stove like ‘The Family Friend.’ ” Verily, “The F. F.” must have been a model stove, and I marvel that neither mother nor Mrs. Ambrose would have it. They knew they could believe all the dealer said in its praise, for he was a church-member and would have lost the sale of a dozen stoves rather than utter a single untruth concerning them.
The next shop they visited was kept by a Mr. Kelly, who, according to his friends, was a Scotchman, and according to his enemies an Irishman. He was happy to see them, and delighted to show them his stock of cookingstoves, which was, he informed them several times, the largest and best in Essex County. “ This, ladies,” he said, pointing to a squat, ugly stove, “is ‘The Gem.’ Truly, she’s not handsome, but give her plenty of wood and she ’ll bake hard and brown. If you want a coal-stove, here’s ‘ The Cook’s Delight,’” patting a smart-looking stove, as one pats a child or a favorite dog. “She’s a beauty, and with a handful or two of coal she ’ll bake and boil and warm the room. My ! what a love of a stove she is, and how the ladies do praise her ! ”
“ Why ! ’t is a New York stove,” exclaimed mother, reading the legend inscribed on the hearth.
“ All the better for that, madam,” answered Kelly, with a peculiar smile on his poor pock-marked face. “ But I fear a certain old Christian who deals in stoves has been lying to you about New York stoves. But he knows as well as I do that the New-Yorkers make better as well as handsomer stoves than the Yankees,”
“What do you think of ‘ The Family Friend,’ Mr. Kelly?” asked Mrs. Ambrose.
“A very good stove of its kind, madam ; but the poorest of my secondhand stoves, which I bought for a song and will sell for a song, will cook better and heat better than ‘The Family Friend.’ ”
Mrs. Ambrose was almost induced to buy “ The Cook’s Delight,” but mother, who was so displeased with Mr. Kelly that she could not or would not see any great or peculiar excellence in the stove, advised her friend to look farther before purchasing.
After leaving Kelly’s, the stove-hunters betook themselves to the “ Housekeepers’ Emporium,” the proprietor of which was the husband of the famous Mrs. Baldry, who was the queen of beauty in Seaport half a lifetime ago. Mother saw, as she entered the “Emporium.” a handsome small-sized cooking-stove, standing genteelly on three long legs. It was called “The Kitchen Common-Sense,” and was manufactured by G. E. Waring of Rippowam, in the State of New York. Although she had never seen just such a stove before, and knew nothing at all about it, she felt, as soon as she laid her eves on it, that “ The Kitchen CommonSense ” was to be hers, and would have been sorry to hear Mr. Baldry say anything in its disparagement, which of course he did not do, but, on the contrary, praised it as a lover praises his “fairest fair.” You need not be told that mother bought the stove, the identical one she fell in love with at first sight. She paid “ many a shining dollar ” for it and for the little brass-headed poker and a heap of useful and useless things which the smooth-tongued dealer talked her into believing were the usual and necessary equipment of a cook-stove. Mrs. Ambrose also purchased a “ Kitchen Common-Sense ” ; though hers, I think, was a size or two larger than ours.
The momentous business of selecting their stoves being satisfactorily ended, the two friends parted company. Mrs. Ambrose went to take tea with Mrs. BoIIydunder (widow of rich old Captain BoIIydunder), and mother made a call upon her wood-merchant, with whom she had dealt for many years, and with whom she was to deal no more, save perhaps for a little kindling wood when charcoal was scarce and dear. The old man, though rolling in wealth, as the phrase is, was just as eager for gain as ever, and, thinking that mother had come to order her winter’s fuel, he greeted her kindly and cordially, and informed her that he had some fine, dry, sound Eastern wood and some first-rate up-river wood. When told that she was going to burn coal, (in which he did not deal,) he shook his head doubtfully, and said he feared she would miss her cheerful fireplace. Did he know anything about coal, mother asked, and would he advise her to buy her coal of A or of B ? He knew nothing about coal, he replied, and would n’t have it in his house ; but he thought she ’d better go to B’s for her coal ; “ He’s my wife’s cousin’s son, and an honest man.” Mr. B knew all about coal, and profoundly observed that white-ash was best for those that liked it, and red-ash best for those that liked it. If she wanted coal that would consume slowly, she ’d better have white-ash ; if she wanted coal that would kindle easily and burn freely, she should have red-ash. Mother decided upon red-ash, and paid for three tons of what Mr. B said was the best coal in the United States.
That night mother came home with an unsmiling face : the thought of her purchases troubled her. She babbled of stoves in her sleep, and dreamed of a gigantic red-hot “ Kitchen CommonSense,” which changed into poor old Mr. Fetty the wood-sawyer, who asked her how she could have the heart to take the bread out of his mouth. Howbeit, she went to work next morning with heart and will, and was soon ready for the stove, and waited with impatience for its arrival. Just as we had concluded it would not come before dinner, a wagon drove up to the door, containing two smutty-faced men and “The Kitchen Common-Sense.” The smutty mechanics understood their business well, and, as they were not “ working by the hour,” soon took their departure. They left the stove standing in our kitchen on a bright square of zinc, and just in front of the new sheet-iron fire-board, behind which was the deserted fireplace, and the old brick oven in which had been baked so many mince-pies and squash-pies, and pandowdies, to say nothing of the Sunday beans and bread and Indian puddings.
Immediately after dinner, and before mother had kindled a fire in the stove, or tidied up a bit, the dear neighbors, who had seen or heard of the arrival of the “ Common-Sense,” came flocking in to see it. How kind and complimentary they were ! One said it was a cunning little stove, but feared her family would starve if she had to cook with it. Another had no doubt it would do well if it did not crack the first time a fire was made in it. A third observed that if folks must have such things as cooking-stoves,she supposed this might be about as good as any of them, though she should like it better if it were less ornamental. A grandmotherly personage hoped it would warm the room without setting the house on fire. Aunt Nancy shook her head, and muttered something about a pretty toy. Sally Dole said it would do very well, if the iron was good. As soon as the amiable visitants were gone, mother brought from the cellar a pan of charcoal, and a canvas-lined basket containing a handful or two of shavings and a few small dry chips, and proceeded to kindle a fire in the “ Common-Sense.” With fear and hope and anxiety she held the burning lucifer beneath the grate. The smoke poured out thick and fast from every cranny and crevice of the stove, — the chimney was unfriendly to the “ Common-Sense,” we feared, — and in a moment or two the fire blazed and roared, and the smoke went willingly through the funnel and up the chimney, which was friendly to the stove after all. Mother smiled, and put a shovelful of coal into the grate, and the “black Pennsylvanian stones” ignited finely. Yes, the draught was good, and the coal would burn, and we should do bravely if the heat did not crack the stove, which it did not do, though every time a piece of coal snapped in two with a loud noise we thought the machine was broken. O, how happy we were as we sat in front of the “Common-Sense” that afternoon, gazing upon the glowing grate, and listening to the singing of the teakettle ! Next morning the stove baked us some nice light biscuits for breakfast, and cooked our modest little dinner beautifully. The “ Common-Sense ” baked our Thanksgiving pies and Christmas puddings. It also roasted the Thanksgiving turkey and the Christmas goose to a turn, — could the old tin-kitchen have done more than that ?
As the season advanced and the fierce cold days of winter came, we found that our little stove was equal to the occasion, and threw out the heat generously. Mother soon grew to be very fond and very proud of “ The Kitchen Common-Sense,” and slaved to keep it black and bright, somewhat to the dislike of Sally Dole, who thought it almost sinful to have a cook-stove shine like silver. Indeed, the “CommonSense ” made our kitchen so warm and comfortable, that mother invited Miss Peachy to come and pass a few weeks at our house during the winter, and Miss Peachy came, and the stove and its mistress gave her a warm welcome. She was, as I remember her, a small, comely, black-eyed woman in a faded green silk. In their girlhood, Miss Peachy and mother had been almost as great friends as Shakespeare’s Hermia and Helena. They had not met before for years, and so there was a deal to be said about old times and old friends. One night, as they sat before the “ Common-Sense,” and were warmed by its genial heat, they reconstructed the world of their youth and peopled it with a crowd of shadows which they called up from the awful past.
Miss Peachy was as great a student of novels and romances as Miss Buskbody herself, and had brought with her a bountiful supply of her favorite literature; and just as soon as the tea-things were cleared away and the stove well poked, she would seat herself at the little mahogany light-stand, and read, by the dim light of an oil lamp, chapter after chapter of some long - winded novel or other. She never skipped a word, however dull or prosy the book might be, for skipping she held to be the unpardonable sin of novel-readers. She read all moral or didactic passages with great slowness and emphasis. She laughed freely at the funny things, and expected you to do the same. Whenever she came to a pathetic scene she wept, and looked up with tear-dimmed eyes to see if you were not weeping also. I don’t remember the names of many of Miss Peachy’s darling romances, though I heard them read with considerable interest. The world, I fear, has forgotten them too. I dare say that “ Annie Gray ” and the rest of them could be found upon the dusty top shelf of many an old family library. I have a kindness for the memory of Miss Peachy. She gave me a taste for the pleasures and delights of novel-reading.
As soon as Miss Peachy got through all her volumes, she flitted with them to another old schoolmate in a distant town, to whom I suppose she read the dear familiar stories with new interest and undiminished pleasure. Mother hugely enjoyed Miss Peachy’s readings, and missed them so much after they were over, that she borrowed many a foolish novel and silly romance from the circulating library in Seaport, which was rich in such productions. I read these works aloud in the evening, in, I fear, a careless, hurried, blundering way, which must have been in painful contrast to Miss Peachy’s careful and correct manner ; but thus was begun a long and, upon the whole, a delightful course of light reading, which was not all so very light, however, for we worried through some mighty heavy books.
By the time we had perused a dozen or more of the circulating-library romances it was late in spring, and a coal-fire was getting uncomfortable. So one May morning we took the stove down and reopened the fireplace, and made a fire on the hearth out of chips from the ship-yard; which is a fire that hints of the sea and suggests volumes of ocean adventure. The crane and pothooks, and the andirons, and the bellows, and the shovel and tongs, were in use once more. Our old tin baket was taken from its hiding-place, and scoured bright; but it would not bake near as well as the “ Common - Sense,” and mother, who prided herself on her bread, and loved to have the loaves cracked and brown, was not sorry upon this account, as well as others, when the time came round to have the stove back again.
Mrs. Ambrose’s “ Common-Sense ” did n’t bake well at all, she complained; and it was, she had discovered at last, too ornamental a stove for her kitchen; and she gave her husband no peace till it was exchanged for a new one of the very latest style : for there are as many styles and fashions in cookingstoves as in bonnets, and some women have a new stove about as often as they have a new bonnet.
Mother, however, maintained that in “ The Kitchen Common-Sense ” cooking-stoves had reached perfection, or as near perfection as it was possible or even essential to have them. True, she admitted it was just possible that A’s stove consumed a trifle less fuel than hers, but then A’s was a slack baker ; or that B’s threw out a little more heat sometimes, but it was an awkward, unhandsome thing ; or C’s was more easily “cleared out” in the morning, but it had n’t an open grate and the fire could not be seen. Now the “ Common-Sense,” she said, baked as well as a brick oven, was as handsome as a picture, and had a pleasant open grate, through which you saw the glowing coal, which looked like a mass of molten gold. With what polite incredulity and pitying contempt she listened to her friends’ fine stories about the merits of some new upstart cook-stove, the prodigy of the season, the housewife’s dear last favorite ! When told by kind neighbors that the “ Common-Sense ” was sadly out of fashion, she said it was fashionable enough for her, and should never be pushed aside for a newer trifle till it was fairly worn out or burnt out.
I grew from a boy to a man, and still the old stove (how soon things grow old in this world!) was nearly as good as ever, apparently, and more prized than when new. And when we left the ancient house where we had lived so long and enjoyed so much, and came to Carterville, the “Kitchen Common-Sense ” came with us, and was set up in our new home ; and the sight of so familiar a friend in that strange and unfamiliar house took the chill out of our hearts before we had kindled a fire to take the chill out of our fingers.
In truth, the “Common-Sense” was now doubly dear to us. It baked and boiled and threw out the heat as generously as of old. It was also a pleasant remembrancer of other days, and its tin teakettle sang eloquently of the past and hopefully of the future.
But it touched me and grieved me to see with what loving care and patience mother waited and tended upon the “ Common - Sense ” in its venerable but infirm old age, lifting the poor burnt-out covers as tenderly as one lifts a day-old baby, and handling the poker as gently as if she feared a too violent motion of that potent little instrument would be fatal to the ageworn stove, which, though sadly decrepit, performed its daily duties remarkably well. I can see mother with her spectacles looking wistfully at the “ Common-Sense,” fearful of discovering some hole or crack in the thin iron.1 Yet with all the wear and tear of its long years of service, it outlasted its owner, and after she was gone consumed tons of coal, and baked I know not how many pots of Sunday beans, and warmed and comforted and consoled a poor solitary bachelor.
At last, however, the “ Common Sense " became too old and disabled for use, and was deposed, and now stands lonely and rusty and forlorn in the cellar, never again to be the pride and pet of the kitchen, never again to bake bread or boil teakettle or perform the least and humblest culinary labor. I have not the heart to sell the “ Common - Sense ” for old iron, but keep it for the same reason that the Cid refused to bear arms against the town of Zamora, “ because of the days which are past.”
J. E. Babson.
- 2 Some years since I searched Boston for a “ Kitchen Common-Sense,” but the stove had been long out of the market and the dealers knew it not. Even Westcott, who knows as much about old stoves as Perry Burnham knows about old books, had forgotten “The Kitchen Common-Sense,” and smiled and shook his head when I asked him if a second-hand one was likely to turn up soon.↩